Keeills and Cake; Ballawoods Keeill, Santon.

Keeills and Cake; Ballawoods Keeill, Santon.

Keeill number nineteen.

Ballawoods Keeill sits just off the Raad ny Foillan public footpath at Santon Gorge.

Santon Gorge is where the Santon Burn enters the Irish Sea, its steep sides mean that the rather lovely beach is visited mainly by kayakers but it is possible to climb down (not with young children) and is a great place to spend a summer afternoon.  Sitting at the entrance to Santon Gorge looking out to sea is a promontory hill fort at Cass-ny-Hawin (Foot of the River) thought to date from Viking times, sitting inland just a five minute walk from the hill fort is the Ballawoods Keeill.

As you can see, the area has a lot to offer.


You can get to Santon Gorge and the keeill either by following the Raad ny foillan (Way of the Gull) footpath from Douglas in the direction of Castletown or by following the public footpath on the left hand side between The Blackboards and Ballasalla and crossing a couple of fields past Ballawoods Farm.  When you arrive at the very picturesque river, if you follow the footpath to the right, you will find the keeill just over a wall sitting on the west bank of the Santon Burn. Those early Christians knew how to pick a good location – easy access, a water supply with good fishing nearby, a site with great visibility and a lovely view.


We visited on a day when the sun shone high in the sky, the sea was aquamarine and the gorse a golden yellow, the area felt vibrant.  I have to say that not every day is like that on the Isle of Man, it made a pleasant change.



The Ballawoods Keeill (called ‘Ronaldsway’ in the Sixth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey), sits in the Treen of Kyrke Mychell which suggests a possible dedication to St. Michael (Place Names of the Isle of Man, J. J. Kneen, 1925).

The chapel is a large example at about 28ft by 12ft, although the remaining walls are only about 2ft high at most, the footprint of the structure is still visible as is the entrance in the west gable facing what would have been the altar.  Unfortunately, someone has been enjoying a BBQ in the corner of the keeill, I’m hoping the stones used to make this were taken from the wall alongside and not from the structure itself!


The Sixth Report tells us that there is no early mention of the keeill and its burial ground with the earliest record being its inclusion in the 1870 O.S. map when it was marked ‘chapel and Burial Ground (remains of)’.  Having read and re-read the account of the visit to the Arbory and Malew ancient monuments by the Archeological Commission in 1877, they seem to have completely missed the Ballawoods Keeill even though they walked out to visit the nearby fort at Cass-ny-Hawin which seemed quite an oversight.  It gets even more strange when you start reading the section on ‘Ronaldsway Keeill’ in the Sixth Report published in 1966:

An excursion of N.H.A.S. visited the site in September 1917 (Proc. N.H.A.S. II, No. 2. p. 97) when the leader, P. M. C. Kermode, pointed out the ‘keeill on the Treen of Kyrke Mychell, which had just been excavated… it contained an almost perfect altar built of limestone ashlars’.  No other mention or account of this excavation has been traced, though a photograph of the work in progress is in the files of the Manx Museum Library.  It is surely an oversight that Kermode in his next reference to the keeill (List, 1930, p.74) speaks of it as a buried ruin.

…On the new O.S., 6in., 1957, it is unfortunate that some details of the site have been omitted in order to accommodate lettering, but the relative archaeological field card reports the site as a grass covered mound, with gorse on its eastern (sic) part; some walls forming the remains of the chapel, are 3 ft. high.  In addition, there are stated to be signs of ‘some industrial activity’, but these are not further described and cannot now be identified.

Mr J. R. Bruce visited when preparing the Sixth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey(1966) and describes the condition he found it in.  He found the burial ground to be about 150 ft. by 80 ft., much of the groundwork, if any remained, was hidden under the thick cover of gorse but he did find a low ridge of earth 30 ft. to 40 ft. in length running north to south and marking a boundary of the burial ground.


He found the keeill to be ‘constructed in the usual way’ with walls of earth and stones faced on the inside with roughly dressed blocks.  The interior of the keeill was 28 ft. by 12 ft. although he thought that a number of lengths of stone had been ‘robbed’ over time.  Bruce thought that the excavations in 1917 by Kermode had been responsible for the levelling of the floor of the keeill, the walls stood to around 2 ft. in places.  The altar, built of limestone blocks, stood around 10 inches high by 4 ft. 3 ins. wide and sat ‘off centre’ towards the south.  The entrance was found in the west gable.

It was mentioned that many stones had slipped down the steep slope towards the river and that although there was an obvious marked burial ground, there were no records of burials having been found on the site.  There was a well shown on the old OS map but this had become only a ‘wet place at the head of a little tributary stream’ by the time of the visits by J. R. Bruce.

Two photographs taken from the Sixth Report show the site looking very similar to how you find it in 2016:


I wonder where the information from the Kermode survey from 1917 went to and if it will ever come to light.  I could find very little information on this well visited site.

Update, 30th August 2016.

I have had a real bee in my bonnet over where the Ballawoods survey by Kermode had vanished to so when I was offered the chance by Wendy at MNH to look through the private papers of P. M. C. Kermode (currently catalogued) for that survey and a couple of other bits of information, I was very excited.  I am pleased to say that I found the excavation report, hand written in a booklet (uncatalogued but in box MS08979) and it has shed a bit more light on the keeill.  There is one part of the report that I found the handwriting particularly difficult to read and so I have left a couple of words out, apologies if there are any errors in the transcription.

The ruins of this keeill, the dedication of which is commemorated in the name of the Treen on which is stands, are to be seen in a sheltered hollow by the Santon River and clse to the old Douglas road which here descends abruptly with an easterly turning.  It is 300 yards south of Ballawoods House and 20 yards west of the stream which forms the boundary between the parishes as well as between the sheadings.

The keeill measures 29ft. by 13ft. The foundations of all the walls are in position.. built with undressed stones with kneaded red clay for mortar and outer face of rather small stones (limestone of the district).  The west and north are 3ft. wide, east and south 4ft.  About a half of the north wall from the east end is on the rock and the foundations go deeper towards the south.

The doorway is in the west gable, about 4ft. from the south corner, measures 4ft.6ins… internally.  It is splayed for a depth of 21ins. where there is a rebate of 6ins. from which it extends outwards square with the wall.  The angle of the splay on the north side is was less; unfortunately, the building here is so ruined that the precise line is not shown, but it looks as though the external opening had been reduced to 2ft. 6ins.  The embankment against the wall is here 4ft. wide but continues sloping to the boundary for another 8ins. and this has been resetted with stones and crossed so as to … cobbled path of entrance with a step of 4 to 6ins. down into the keeill.  Many of the floor paving stones were in position.  25 white shore pebbles were found at the east end and also 8 or 10 roofing slates which seem to show that the keeill has been in actual use until comparatively recent times.

The most interesting feature was the altar at 3ft 6ins. from south wall and 3ft. 7ins. from north wall, which was almost perfect and built of large blocks of limestone carefully fitted; it measured 5ft. 9ins. long by 2ft. 6ins. to 3ft. wide and stood above the floor; it must have been covered by one or more large slabs of which no trace remained.  On the south side the foundations went deeper, to the rock which sloped rapidly in this direction.  The white pebbles found here rather suggest a burial at the south side but if so, no other evidence of it was found.  Above the altar, a stone set across the wall looked like a part of the jamb of the east window but the sill stones had been removed; there had apparently been a splay inwards; the north jamb being about 5ft. from the north wall – there had been a fall inwards as shown by the bedding for the sill stones rising for a height of 3ft. 6ins. above the floor.

Outside, at a distance of 10ft. from the outer face of the south wall taking a line from a point 9ft. from the east end, was found a grave, the top of which (was) at a level of about 12ins. below the floor of the keeill.  It was not coursed by flags or lined with lintels but seemed to have been marked out by small stones, the two largest of which measure 10 by (?) by 2ins., and 12 by 7 by 3ins., over 50 white shore pebbles came from this. 

The little cemetery, like the floor of the keeill, had as regards the southern area had been raised artificially to a level and in a line 15ft. from the outer face of the south wall, taken from a point 18ft. from the east corner, we found a retaining, the foundations extending to a depth of 6ft. below the level of the keeill floor.  This was built of surface stones, the largest being about  10 by 6 by 7ins.; 16 by 7 by 12ins. and 18 by 8 by 12ins.  Eighteen small white pebbles met with in this digging suggested that there had been another burial close to the boundary.  The boundary of the cemetery could be traced round the east, south and west walls, where it was artificially raised to points respectively to 14ft., 15ft. and 9ft.with retaining walls.

Although Bruce writes that burials had not been known on this site, the Kermode survey is important for documenting that some tombs had been found.  I also found it interesting that Kermode thought that the building had been used until relatively recent times.  More information is given in a letter from P. Ralfe (from the IOMNHAS) to Kermode (uncatalogued but in box MS8979 2 of 2), the letter mentions that P. Ralfe had been speaking to a Mrs Kennaugh from Ballasalla who lived when young in the house (perhaps Ballawoods Farm?).  Mrs Kennaugh told him that the ground where bones had been found at the time of the excavation was used as a garden by her father.  Mrs Kennaugh also told Ralfe that the condition of the enclosure on the northern mound, was in ‘just the same condition as now all her life’ and that people considered it to have some connection with the church.

The walls have reduced substantially in height from the time of the Kermode survey and it’s hard to tell if the altar is still in place under some of the loose stones or whether the floor paving is under the grass.

A keeill without much structure left to look at but sitting in an area where there really is so much to see.

Bring some cake and don’t have a BBQ!


What is a keeill?



Keeills and Cake; Cabbal Dreem Ruy, Arbory.

Keeills and Cake; Cabbal Dreem Ruy, Arbory.

Keeill number eighteen.

With kind permission from Alan Stott.

There is a public footpath running close to the Cabbal Dreem Ruy Keeill but it is on private land.

On an overcast afternoon in May, we wandered down the public footpath in Ronague to the keeill at Ballayelse.  Imagine our delight when on entering the field, we were greeted by pygmy goats, donkeys, geese and miniature ponies.  One particular bottle fed pygmy goat, ‘Juliette’, was extremely friendly and followed us round like a little puppy, the keeill itself is rather lovely but I do think that Juliette was the highlight of this trip for us!


Cabbal Dreem Ruy (Chapel of the Red Ridge) is a name that was only connected with this keeill when it was used by P. M. C. Kermode in a list of Manx antiquities in 1894.  It is often known as the Ballayelse Keeill as it sits on Ballayelse Farm land, it has no known dedication.  In the past journals of the IOMNHAS, I found a description of a visit to the keeill by the society in 1899:

The cars were in waiting at the Round Table, and, seats being resumed, the road was followed to Ballayelse. Here stands a good example of our ancient Keeils, almost all of which have unfortunately been allowed to fall so completely into ruin. It lies N.W. and S.E., and the internal measurement is 19 feet 6 inches by 10 feet 6 inches, the walls being from two feet nine inches to three feet thick. The inside height is six feet. An uncultivated space. around of five to six yards marks the ancient burial ground. A doorway appears to have been near the east end of the south wall; there is no trace of any window, nor were any signs of carving observed.

Eight years later in 1907, P. M. C. Kermode writes an article for the IOMNHAS on ‘An Introduction to the study of church buildings in the Isle of Man earlier than the eleventh century’, he mentions the keeill at Ballayelse:

‘The walls vary from 2 ft. 6 in. to about 5 ft. in thickness at the foundation. Ballayelse, in Arbory, is the only example remaining which shows their full height, and in that instance they stand 6 ft.’

Over 100 years later at our visit, the keeill is fenced off and appears well looked after, the structure seems comparatively good but the height is more like 3-4ft so we could see that there had been considerable deterioration over the past century.  All the same, we thought it was picture perfect with its striking white stones and bluebells and very uniform appearance, we later found out why!


There are very large quartz boulders at each corner and scattered throughout the walls which gave it quite a distinctive quality, we hadn’t come across many with such a large amount of quartz.  White stones are frequently found in large numbers when these sites are surveyed and their use can often be a sign of the keeill being built on an earlier Bronze Age site.  The white stones seem to have held religious significance to these early Christians, perhaps a continuation of their importance from earlier pagan times.  In an article from the Mona’s Herald from 1937 describing a visit to the keeill, it mentions that a large number of the white stones had been taken away and re-used in the farm buildings which would account for the depletion of the structure.

This is also mentioned in an extract from an article in the Ramsey Courier in 1953 describing a visit by IOMNHAS to the keeill (

byelse (2).jpg

Ballayelse Keeill was visited briefly by the Archaeological Commissioners in 1878 where they described the remains as ‘quite extensive’, at the time the walls were 6ft high and 3ft wide at the base, in their write up they thank the owner of Ballayelse, Mr Cubbon, for his preservation of such an ‘interesting monument’.  Unfortunately, it seems like his descendant didn’t have the same respect for the structure when he used the stones from the keeill for building a barn.

Canon E.B. Savage visited the site a few years later and wrote in 1885 that the measurements were 19ft 2in. x 10ft 2in. with a 2ft wide doorway, the walls were built of slate stones and quartz ‘presenting a curiously mottled appearance’, he found the remains of an enclosure, possibly a priest’s cell, about 7ft from the chapel walls.  Canon E. B. Savage also found a graveyard marked by a circle of large stones , 30 yards from the chapel.  Unfortunately, many of the stones from the burial site had been removed for re-use as building materials in the first half of the nineteenth century, a local told him that the death of many cows and calves that followed was attributed to  this ‘sacrilege’ and no more stones were taken away.

Sadly, the site was never surveyed by P. M. C. Kermode and his team and it was left to the Sixth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey where it was visited by Mr J. R. Bruce in 1963-64 by which time the structure was very different.  Five years after P. M. C. Kermode died, in 1937, the Sixth Report tells us that:

…the Museum and Ancient Monuments Trustees, on the advice of their Inspector, undertook ‘a certain amount of renovation’… This involved the cleaning of the fallen stones and the replacement of them on the walls to a height of several feet, as well as the erection of a post and wire fence around the building.

This accounts for the neat and tidy look of the current structure, the Survey also says that:

Seen in the light of today’s more conservative approach to such problems, the work carried out in 1937 may seem unduly restorative, but care was taken to build only upon the old foundations and to retain the ‘mottled appearance’ noted by Canon Savage – the result is an attractive reminder that here was one of the older Churches in Man.  It is unfortunate that the opportunity could not have been taken, while this work at the keeill was in progress, to re-determine and perhaps to mark out the boundary of the burial ground, which seems to have possessed a striking appearance.  As it is, what is little more than a replica is fenced and preserved for posterity while an ancient graveyard, rich in archaeological potential, is lost to the plough.

Fair point.

When the keeill was visited in 1963-64, it would be in a similar condition to how we found it at our visit, Mr J. R. Bruce writes about its condition at the time;

The number of white quartzite blocks in its construction makes the keeill a conspicuous object, as seen from the vicinity of the Awin Vitchel Bridge at Ronague.  Reference has already been made to the ‘renovations’ of 1937, to which the present appearance of the site is largely due,  Two very large quartzite boulders, almost certainly in their original positions, mark the outer corners of the west end of the building, the long axis of which is east-south-east by west-south-west.  The entrance, unaccountably placed near the east end of the south wall, is on its originally described site but its narrow passage, obliquely traversing the wall in a north-south direction, is of doubtful antiquity.  It might be a window opening subsequently cut down to ground level.  As now rebuilt, the walls are stone faced on both sides, which may recall an original feature, since the majority of such walls are stone revetted on the internal face only. 

Bruce could find no trace of the altar or the ‘internal bank’, he mentioned that the mound that was shown on the 1869 O.S. wasn’t really visible but he thought it may follow the line of the current fencing.  The banks of the burial ground had been completely ploughed over along with the ‘enclosure’ that was mentioned by Canon Savage in his 1885 visit.

It is unfortunate that it wasn’t surveyed at the start of the twentieth century with the majority of the keeill sites as this would have given us more information on a fairly intact example before a large proportion of it was destroyed.  It only takes a read of the archaeological surveys to see that this is just one of a huge number of keeills that survived over 1000 years and have been destroyed in the last 150 years.

It would seem that this very attractive chapel is not quite all that it seems.

However, a picturesque keeill in an attractive location with a friendly pygmy goat – what’s not to like?




What are keeills?





Keeills and Cake; Knock-e-Dhooney, Andreas.

Keeills and Cake; Knock-e-Dhooney, Andreas.

Keeill number seventeen.

With kind permission from Dave Martin, Knock-e-Dhooney.

On a beautiful May evening, we headed up to Knock-e-Dhooney in Andreas to meet Dave Martin who had kindly agreed to show us around the Knock-e-Dhooney Keeill.  The Martin family have been at Knock-e-Dhooney since at least 1450 and it was wonderful to have a guide who knew so much about the keeill and the surrounding area.  This is the only keeill with existing visible remains in the Parish of Andreas.

 The chapel is thought to be very early, perhaps as early as 400 – 600 AD and sits in the middle of a field next to the farmhouse.  It has been well maintained and fenced and is under the guardianship of the Manx Museum and National Trust who cut the grass inside and keep the fence in good order.  The keeill walls are fairly high, internally there seems to be a fair amount of infill raising the height of the floor, perhaps it is tumble from the upper sod part of the walls or the detritus from the excavation.  We sat down in the keeill with some delicious orange cake and Dave told us a bit more about the history of this area.

Dave Martin sampling keeills and cake.
Dave pointed out that to modern eyes it is an unusual choice of site for a keeill as it is very exposed with no shelter, there’s no water nearby and it’s not very visible, there are plenty of other sites nearby that would have been more obvious choices.  Dave Martin is very interested in LiDAR which is a form of digital surveying that uses lasers to map areas in great detail.  Using this, he was able to show us how the keeill was actually only visible from very small areas of the north of the Island, unlike the site of the Viking boat burial close by that is very widely visible.  It would seem that the emphasis is on it being more important as a place of worship for the locals and not on it being seen from afar as a form of outreach.
Dr Larch Garrad said that at the time period when all the keeills were in use, there were far fewer trees and each keeill was in the sightline of another, it would be fascinating if this could be proven – digital archaeology may have the answers!
It has also been suggested that this keeill was perhaps the pilgrims’ last holy place to call at before sailing over to the Abbey at Whithorn but it is unlikely that this will ever be anything more than speculation.
The walls of the keeill in 2016 are very thick, 3-4ft wide in places and some of the stones are very large and not found locally, they must have been dropped by the ice-age glaciers.  Some of the stones appear to have been tidied up and there were also socket stones made for a door so it is a complex structure for the time and would certainly be a job for more than one person, it seems to have been a community effort.
Although Knock-e-Dhooney was surveyed by P. M. C. Kermode for the third report in 1909, the survey was restricted to the keeill itself and not the surrounding area.  This is what generally happened in the Manx Archaeolgical Survey due to time constraints and financial limitations.  In 1945/46 when digging a pipe to bring water to the farm, human remains were found quite far away from the keeill at the far side of the field, they were not examined and were reinterred under the pipe.  They would seem to have been far outside the chapel boundary although it could be that these may have been a separate burial from a different time period or one that was specifically outside of the ‘consecrated area’.  In the Sixth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1968), Mr J. R. Bruce writes that:
… where the keeills had no successors, and their burial sites reverted to agricultural land, it was not unnatural for the farmer to demur at the use of his land for burial, especially as there was a belief, devoid of legal warranty, that a path once used by a funeral party became a right of way, but this did not prevent the occasional use of a field border for clandestine burial, protected by a few slabs of stone, as several instances have revealed.  In Arbory Parish, I have been credibly informed by an old farmer that, in his grandfather’s day, it was not unknown for the burial party, intent on a ‘keeill burial’, to perform their task at any available point ‘from which they could see the old place’. 
This is very interesting but possibly not relevant to the Knock-e-Dhooney field burials as these lie even closer to the farm house than the keeill itself.
To look at the wider context, Prof. Mark Noel and Dave have embarked on a geophysical survey of the area around the keeill and this is already revealing hints of now invisible long term occupation (their surveys are fuelled by Eccles Cakes rather than home baking though!).
Plan of keeill taken from Manx Archaeological Survey.

Kermode excavated the keeill at Knock-y-Dhooney for the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1911) and found it to measure about 17ft. by 11ft. with walls that were between 3ft. 3ins. and 4ft. 6ins. in width and built of shore boulders, mainly granite, the boulders on the lower course were good size and well fitted.  The inner and outer face of stone were packed with sand and rubble.

A large stone was found, almost 38 ins. long by 27 in. high and between 10 and 14 in. thick, this stone stretched from the south corner to the doorway in the west wall which was 5ft. 2 in. wide.  The walls were between 2ft. 6in. and 3ft. in height and the familiar embankment of earth and stone was visible outside.  The survey team found rebates in the wall in which the door would have been set and two worn socket stones were also found.  There was a pavement slab from which was a drop of 3in. to a cobble pavement in the narrow part of the doorway.

They found the remains of the altar against the east wall, this was made up of a large slab, plain and undressed and measuring 2 ft. 9in. long by 15 to 20in. wide and around 3in. thick.  This was neatly fitted in to an upright slab on the south side although the front and north side slabs were gone.  This was the first altar to be found with its covering slab still in position at the top and showed that the overall height was only 24in.  Kermode suggested it was possible that a portable altar may have been brought by the priest to sit on top of this stone but even then it wouldn’t be very high.  The two photographs below show the altar as we found it in 2016 and at the time of the excavation by Kermode in the early twentieth century.


In the excavation, they also found a large number of white shore pebbles and several worked flints, the floor paving had long gone with the exception of a small area at the doorway and around the altar.

With the rough and ready way of excavating, it was lucky that Mr. Martin the landowner, noticed a boulder with a plain Latin cross carved in to it, amongst the loose stones ‘thrown out of the keeill’.

The most important discovery made by the survey was a carved stone pillar with a bi-lingual inscription, three lines in Latin on one face and a Celtic inscription in Ogam characters along the edge.  The Latin inscription reads:

(Ammecat son of Rocatus lies here).


The photographs (taken by Mr G. B. Cowen) show the two inscriptions on the stone (the Ogam inscription echoes the Latin) and were taken from the Third Report of the Archaeological Survey.  The stone which measured 5ft. 9in. by 17 to 10in. wide and between 8 to 10in. thick, is now in the care of the Manx Museum.
Dave Martin told us that P. M. C. Kermode when speaking to his grandparents, had told them that someone had told him that Ammecat was a Prince, son of an Irish King and that he had been killed when invading the Isle of Man.  This is a verbal source and to date Dave hasn’t been able to find written confirmation to back this up.  However, the stone was found facing downwards and Dave wonders whether his ancestors possibly turned the stone upside down as they didn’t want to desecrate a grave but also did not want to venerate an invader!  Having spent some time facing downwards, the inscription on the stone had been protected and was in much better condition that it would have been if it had been open to the elements.

As if the keeill wasn’t fascinating enough, there is also an impressive Viking boat burial on Knock-e-Dhooney.  It is interesting to think that although the keeill would have been in use when the Viking burial took place, the Vikings who were generally pagan did not destroy this Christian site and instead made the decision to bury their dead nearby and within sight of it.  This could be seen to be a sign of the Vikings accepting the Celtic Christianity of the locals, that there was no human sacrifices in the ship burial is another sign of the gradual change in beliefs and traditions that was taking place.

Dave had a Viking cloak pin that his father had found on the land, it was lovely to look at it close up, especially when sitting on the top of the burial mound!



So much history in one small area, such a privilege to share it!


Knock e Dhooney Keeill.
The view from the Viking burial mound looking over at the keeill and the farm house.
The view from the keeill.

On Saturday 8th October 2016, Dave Martin will be leading a guided tour of Knock e Dhooney Farm for the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society as part of the MNH Open Weekend events, for more information check out their website or book your place on the tour by contacting

What are keeills?



Keeills and Cake; Cabbal ny Cooilley, Bride.

Keeills and Cake; Cabbal ny Cooilley, Bride.

Keeill number sixteen.

With kind permission of Mr and Mrs Teare.

Cabbal ny Cooilley (Chapel of the Nook) sits between two farms and is not easily accessible making it probably one of the least visited chapels.  We were looking forward to visiting it as it is one of the few remaining antiquities in the Parish of Bride and the only surviving keeill.

In a letter written to the ‘Manks Advertiser’ in 1826 by a Mr C. Radcliffe, he draws attention to the many keeills that still remained at the time and their plight, he described some of the sites that he remembered himself and appealed to his fellow countrymen to make a complete list of the remaining antiquities but his appeal fell on deaf ears.  He mentions that:

‘In Kirk Bride there is an estate called Ballakeeillmean, from Keeill Mean, probably St. Matthew ; in Manks : and Keeill Vael, in the same parish, if I remember right, dedicated either to Michael the Archangel, or St. Mael or Mel, one of the disciples of St. Patrick, by whom his life was written. Keeill Thraie, i.e., the Church of the Strand, from its situation near the sea-coast. Cabbal-ny-Guilcagh—whether the estate takes its name from the Chapel, or the Chapel from the estate, I cannot conjecture, and there is Keeill Thusjag, dedicated to St. Thusag from whose hands St. Patrick receieved the holy sacrament when on his dying bed…

I wish some of my countrymen, who have leisure, would be at the pains to make out an accurate list of the venerable ruins of these places where their ancestors offered unto God, through Christ, the sacrifice of prayer and praise. They are gone to their long home, and the very places where they worshipped the God that made them, and which are now so many heaps of ruins, should possess no common share of interest in the minds of that posterity.’

The Keeill Mean, dedicated to Matthew is likely to be Cabbal ny Cooilley as Ballacamaine probably comes from Ballakeeillmian (‘Place names of the Isle of Man’, J. J. Kneen).  These are extracts from the letter that can be found in the newspapers and periodicals section at  There are many keeill sites mentioned that are long gone but because of this letter their memory remains, if only more people at the time had been as forward thinking as Mr. Radcliffe!

By the time of the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey in 1911 there are five keeills (not the same five mentioned in the letter) noted as being in the parish of Bride:

  • Ballamooar which was long gone by the start of the twentieth century.
  • Port Cranstal, the site of which was cut through to make the road to the Ayres leaving no remains.
  • Ballawannal, which had been long since ploughed over.
  • Ballavarkish, dedicated to St. Mark, a mound remained at the time of the survey along with some stones but no structure.  When it was surveyed, some interesting items were found including an intricate carved sandstone window and a beautifully carved cross slab (images taken from Manx Archaeological Survey, 3rd Report):

The fifth keeill mentioned is Cabbal ny Cooilley, then on the land of Ballacamaine.  You can almost sense P. M. C. Kermode’s disappointment when you read that the landowner would not allow the site to be disturbed:


Ballacamain. This is marked on the O.S., III, 10, (1019). It lies about 700 yds. North-West of Ballachrink house and 700 yds. West of the highroad to Bride, at a height of too ft. or thereabouts. We regret that we were not allowed to examine it. From the appearance of the ground it seems doubtful if there is anything of the walls remaining, but we had hoped by excavating to have been able to judge the dimensions and possibly to have made a Plan. It is unfortunate that the superstition which prevents the orderly examination of some of these Keeills for the purpose of placing on record, for the information of those who come after us, such particulars as may still be gleaned of their character, structure and appearance, and of bringing to light any monuments buried in their ruins, has in no case availed to prevent their total ruin and subsequent destruction. These monuments and remains are all the evidence which has come down to us of the history of the people by whom they were erected, and of the conditions under which they lived, and even if the refusal to allow of their proper exploration were likely to preserve them, which it certainly is not, to keep them buried beneath the surface, and forbid their examination for the purpose of record, is as useless as to cart them away. We can only hope that in course of time, as the results of our work become better known, we may meet with more general support in this respect, and that a more active interest will be taken in the proper preservation of the little that does remain.

Although unfortunate for the survey team, there is a strong folklore of bad things happening to people who have interfered with the keeills and I can absolutely understand someone almost 110 years ago having second thoughts about it.

Mrs Teare, the current landowner, mentioned that her husband thought it may have been surveyed in the 1950’s and was very curious to find out more.  After looking in the museum library and speaking to Andrew Johnson (MNH), it seems there is no record of any survey having taken place and looking at the date, it is likely that it was the Ordnance Survey team mapping the site.

When we eventually found the keeill after originally searching in the wrong field (thanks to my incorrectly marking the map reference), we found a very large mound measuring around 50ft. in diameter and between 4 and 6ft. in height, there were two large stones on top, one standing up, one lying down. In the Third Manx Scrapbook (Gill, 1963), the larger stone is mentioned:

‘Cabbal ny Chooilley, “Chapel of the Rear Part,” is the local name for the ancient Keeill in the field called Creggan ny Chooilley on Ballakermeen.  “The big stone that the Ballakermeen man took away for a gatepost, but he got no sleep that night and put it back first thing next morning,” is pointed out on the mound of the chapel.’

Of course, as Gill rarely references anything, I’m not sure where he got that story from!

Although there was a little wear on the mound at one side, no other stonework was visible and we were unsure whether the keeill building had sat on top of this mound or was interred inside (similar to Keeill Pharick a Dromma).We sat on one of the stones with a cup of tea and ate some delicious banana cake that Nicola had made, we admired the view and wondered exactly what we were sitting on.


The lack of archaeological excavation means that it would seem that this site is still intact and a mystery, who knows what lies beneath!

Hopefully, one day someone will find out, know any archaeologists with time on their hands?


More about keeills.


Keeills and Cake; Corrody Keeill, Lezayre.

Keeills and Cake; Corrody Keeill, Lezayre.

Keeill number fifteen.

With kind permission from Danny Creer, tenant farmer, Corrody.

This quiet spot high above Tholt y Will is a favourite of Nicola’s as her family, the Christians and the Mylecharaines, farmed here for generations.  The area is steeped in history and there are two very interesting tholtans (ruined buildings) on the site, ‘The Creggans’ and ‘The Corrody’.

The name ‘Corrody’ was originally from ‘Corrony’, a corruption of ‘Ciaran’ an early Christian saint, it is possible that St. Ciaran was the dedication for the keeill.  This is suggested in an article in the Mona’s Herald on a visit to the site by the Antiquarian Society in 1953 (


The name of Mylecharaine comes from the Irish Gaelic meaning ‘Mac Giolla Ciardin’ – son of Ciaran’s servant (‘The Place-Names of the Isle of Man With their Origin and History’ by J.J. Kneen, 1925), this means Nicola’s family may have a much longer association with the area than she originally thought!

At one time this area was full of hill farms and would have been a large community.  It is hard to imagine that now, as in the 21st century The Corrody seems very isolated.  If you sit at the keeill and look across the valley, you can see many ruined farmsteads all sitting at around the same height.

From the 1820’s onwards there was mass emigration from the Island, especially the north, life was hard and after the enclosure of the common land in the 1860’s there continued to be large numbers of people leaving the Island up until the early 20th century.  This article from the ‘Manx Sun’ written in 1852 ( gives a very touching description of those leaving who knew they may never see the land of their birth again:

Emigration – The natives of the northern part of the Island are again making arrangements to leave the place of their birth and seek a home in North America. On Wednesday last about fifty persons, principally young men arrived in Douglas from Andreas, Ballaugh etc. and the same night took their departure by the King Orry for Liverpool with the intention of emigrating to America where the most of them have already friends or relatives. We are informed by a person who accompanied the emigrants to Douglas that the scene when these parties were leaving their homes, was truly affecting. Their relatives followed them for a considerable way on the road, lamenting their departure whilst a long procession of carts conveying the luggage moved slowly along and also bearing the juvenile portion of the party amidst the silence of those about to leave their native soil, who would occasionally steal an expressive glance at their late homes. Our informant says that he never saw even a funeral procession move with more touching solemnity. There were also a few individuals from the South of the Island who left by the same steamship en route for Australia.

As someone who volunteers at the Isle of Man Family History Society Library helping people with their genealogy research, I am often amazed by the real affinity to the Island that people feel whose ancestors left the Island almost 200 years earlier.  I think often about how much these economic migrants must have loved and missed their Island home, to have passed this strong feeling on to so many future generations.

The stories of mass emigration from the north of the Island and the remaining farmsteads could fill a blog on their own.


The Corrody keeill lies in a field known as ‘Cronk y Keeillee’ which translates as ‘hill of the keeill’, and seems to have been built on the remains of a Bronze Age burial site, the structure of which is still visible surrounding it.  The foundations of the keeill are still visible and in about the same condition as it was described a century ago, there is a holy well in the next field that is known as Chibbyr Karrin (Ciaran’s Well)

corrody5 (2)

The keeill was surveyed around 1915 for the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, they found that:

The Keeill had been set on a low and partly artificial mound, now two feet above the level of the field, roughly circular but here and there encroached upon by the plough, and having an inside diameter of about thirteen yards; surrounded by stones set on end with remains of an outer circle of stones at 3 to 6 ft. from the other. The largest of these stones was at the E. end and measured thirty two inches high above the surface of the ground by 22 to 24 inches. The general appearance suggested a pre-historic burial-place, and the cinerary urn now found proved it to have been used as such in the Bronze Age before it became a Christian Cemetery.

The plans below are taken from the survey and show the keeill in relation to the Bronze Age remains followed by a plan of the keeill itself as they found it:




Fig. 4. Keeill on Corrody, Sulby, Lezayre.

The keeill, when surveyed was 17 ft. 6 ins. by 9 ft. and ran N.W and S.E, the walls were between 24 and 40 inches high and between 3 and 4 foot thick.  The doorway was in the north wall and there were some ‘jamb stones’ remaining for openings in the walls – probably windows.  Only one or two paving slabs remained and the was no sign of an altar, there was some stone skirting along the lower courses of the walls.  There was surprisingly little information.

The photograph below is taken from the survey and shows the stone skirting in more detail:


cprrrrrr.jpgFig. 5. Walls of Keeill, Corrody, showing stone skirting.

There are some wonderful recollections of life and folklore at ‘The Corrody’ by Alfred Christian (Nicola’s great grandfather) that were collected for the Manx Folk Life Survey in the mid twentieth century.  These documents are available at the Manx Museum Library and well worth a look, they are absolutely fascinating.  This keeill is well worth a visit as a good example with a great view, I can also highly recommend the cake at Tholt y Will tea rooms just down the road!

I’ll finish this with the most lovely poem by one of my favourites, ‘Cushag’, Josephine Kermode, who was the sister of P. M .C Kermode (Manx Museum and National Trust) and who was known with fondness as the best loved poet of her generation:


LONE little tholtan, left by the wayside,
Where have they wandered that loved thee of old?
Where are the children that played by the fireside?
Poor little chiollagh, forlorn and cold!

Mutely thy gables are standing asunder,
Rafterless, ragged, the ruin between!
All that was homelike, secluded and tender,
Stripped of its sheltering thatch is seen.

Why have they left thee so drear and forsaken,
Was it misfortune, or sadder unthrift?
Was there a stone of the Church in thy building
Secretly working to send them adrift?

Was it the dream of a new Eldorado
Lured them away with its roseate hue?
Only to find the green hills of the distance
Bare as Barooil to the nearer view.

Come winds of Autumn and cover it gently,
Poor little hearth-stone deserted and bare;
Cover it softly with leaves from the woodlands,
Lap it away from the cold bleak air.

Hasten the day when those desolate gables,
Holding their secret of failure and dearth,
Gently shall sink to their grave by the wayside,
Hidden at last in the warm kind earth.


corrodykeeillcorrody1corrody2 (2)20160516_120755.jpgcorrody7corrody6corrrrrrrrrrr

You may have noticed that in many blog posts, I have used information from the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society visits and journals, the society is still going strong with lots of interesting talks and visits, you can find out more at

More about keeills.


Keeills and Cake; Cabbal Pherick, Kirk Michael.

Keeills and Cake; Cabbal Pherick, Kirk Michael.

Keeill number fourteen.

Cabbal Pherick is one of the better known Manx keeills, it is situated in Glen Mooar near Kirk Michael, next to the Island’s highest waterfall, ‘Spooyt Vane’ (meaning ‘White Spout’).



This early chapel is one of many dedicated to St. Patrick across the Island and is in a very lovely but lonely location in one of our Island Glens.


We visited when the sun was low in the sky and dappled sunlight made this holy place very beautiful in the early evening light.  In the background we could hear Spooyt Vane waterfall far below and it would have been very peaceful if it wasn’t for the two year old.  We had picked up some fish and chips in Peel on the way out and they were still hot when we had got to the keeill so we sat in this delightful spot and had our tea.  Keeills and Chips.


Cabbal Pherick sits in a clearing and is comparatively large, measuring 23ft by 13ft.  The walls still stand quite high in places but I think it has deteriorated slightly since it was surveyed in 1911 for the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey.


When it was surveyed, the altar stone was removed and placed to the right of the gate at Kirk Michael Parish Church.  The remains of the culdee’s ‘cell’ are still to be seen at the south west corner which makes it particularly unusual.  The plan showing both is from the survey:



I came across a slightly horrifying story about the last incumbent of the keeill and cell in the the Ramsey Courier, describing a visit to the keeill from the Antiquarian society in 1954 (

spooytvane (2).jpg

This story is also mentioned with more detail in the report for the survey team in 1911:

It is told of this Keeill that the last Priest who officiated in it was guilty of mending his carranes on a Sunday, and in consequence, met with a sudden and dreadful end. The story as told by the late Mr. Cannell was as follows: “The priest of Cabbal Pherick, at the Spooyt Vane, was a cobbler to his trade. One day he was so busy mending a pair of shoes that he did not notice the people passing in the road and looking at him in surprise. His housekeeper came to him at last and said ‘Are you not ashamed to be doing work on the Sabbath and all the people waiting at the Chapel for you.’ What are thou talking of woman,’ he said, ‘Go and count the eggs and see how many are in the nest.’ For the priest had a hen which laid an egg every day and they were collected only once a week, and that is how he knew what day it would be. So the woman went, and when she came back she said-Seven eggs there are.’ Then the priest threw down his tools, and rushed away with such haste that he fell down the Spooyt Vane, and was drowned. And the people never used the Chapel any more.” Another version lays stress on the fact that he waxed his shoe-laces, and when he was crossing the stream he tripped ever them and was carried down the fall !

I’m not sure whether the story was ever based on fact but I’m sure it was a great teaching tool for the people living nearby on the importance of keeping the Sabbath!

The photo below of Cabbal Pherick being excavated was taken from the report of the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey in 1911, the photo itself was taken by Mr W. Skillicorn.  As you can see from the slightly chaotic look of the pile of stones in the middle of the keeill, I don’t think the excavations were carried out quite as carefully as they would have been today! I was told that local men were brought in to do the majority of the digging and it was overseen by Mr Kermode and the other members of the team, a rough and ready way of working.


In 1911, the survey found the keeill to measure 23ft. by 13ft. and the walls stood between 28in. at the west end to the west end.


Fig. 3. Cabbal Pherick, Michael.

They found the doorway to be 25 in. wide and situated in the west wall, there was a 12in. high step leading in to the keeill from the outside.  Several pavement stones were in position at the east end and parts of the altar remained, the bed of a window on the east wall was still visible although the sill and jamb stones had gone.

The walls were the usual inner and outer face of stones, set without mortar and the space filled with soil and rubble.  P. M. C. Kermode found a small flat stone lying on its face by the doorway, on it was a very simple linear cross, a simple mark for the simple Celtic faith, this little cross is now in the ownership of the Manx Museum.  The enclosure measuring about 32 yards north to south and 25 yards east to west, was surrounded by a low embankment of earth and stones between 4 and 6ft. wide.

cabbbbb.gifFig. 6. Cross-slab from Cabbal Pherick, Michael.

Go out there, experience this peaceful place and think of over 1000 years of history at this site.  Think of the many Victorian tourists that passed on their way to visit Spooyt Vane, think of the many families that came here to share important times in their lives when it was in use as a place of God, think of the many people who have visited here over the years to reflect on their lives and enjoy the solitary beauty of this place.  Don’t think about the poor hermit with his slippery shoes, that’ll only ruin it!

And bring a picnic, or at least cake.


More about keeills.



Keeills and Cake; Keeill Vreeshey, Marown.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Vreeshey, Marown.

Keeill number thirteen.

Keeill Vreeshey has an access agreement in place with the Manx Museum and National Trust.  Even with this in place, people should respect the farmer and use discretion: if there’s a standing crop approaching harvest, stay away.  If there’s a single path through the crop, use it and don’t beat down any more.  Sometimes it rotates to pasture, so people should respect any livestock, close gates etc.  Keeill Vreeshey is situated on the Mount Rule back road at the junction with the Eyreton Road and is marked on the map.


This keeill and burial ground, dedicated to St Bridget, sit fenced off in the middle of a vast field overlooking Crosby.  The keeill has a good structure still with walls that are over four feet high in places.  Judging from the number of times that it is referred to in the Manx press over the years, Keeill Vreeshey seems to have been one of the most frequently visited keeills by antiquarian societies and similar, probably because it is also one of the most visible and easily accessible.  There was mention of a well, Chibbyr Vreeshey, in the field below, that had an association with the keeill and until the twentieth century used to draw people from all over the Island on account of its healing properties.  I found this information from a newspaper article in the Isle of Man Times from 1937 about a visit to the keeill by an antiquarian society ( but I haven’t been able to find any further information on it and it seems doubtful that it still exists.

The chapel was surveyed in 1908 in the First Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, they found it in a comparatively good state of preservation and that is the same today.


FIG. 3. — Plan of Keeill Vreeshey, Marown.

In the survey by Kermode and his team, they mention that the keeill is in ‘The Chapel Field’ which, according to Paul Bridson (Yn Lioar Manninagh,” VOL III, p. 433), as in 1861 known as Garey Keeill Vreeshey.  The name was forgotten by the time of the survey but they found one man who knew the fied as ‘the Breesh’.  They found the keeill to measure 16ft. by between 9 and 10ft., the wall was as high as 5ft. in places and the doorway was between 18 and 24in. wide, situated in the south wall.  The sides of the doorway were found to be of large stones with a stone on edge at the threshold of the doorway from which the pavement sloped outwards.  The position of the altar at the east end is marked by some small stones, the sill of a window 18in. wide remained in the east wall.  Directly behind the altar was a stone set on edge to cover a recess in the wall that was 18in. deep, 16in. high and 12in. wide, this is thought to have been perhaps a reliquary that may have contained the remains of the priest responsible for creating the site or perhaps as a safe place for holy items during Viking raids, this feature was also found at the nearby Cabbal Druiacht, Glen Lough.

On the outside of the walls, there was the familiar bank of earth and large stones up to the height of about 2ft. and about 3ft. wide at the base.  The irregular stones that paved the floor were still in existence.

The keeill sat in the north west of an oval shaped enclosure that measured around 58ft. by 40ft., the embankment was of earth and stones and was between 4 and 6ft. wide with an absence of stones opposite the doorway of the keeill and the remains of a pavement leading half way down to it which would suggest that it was the entrance of the enclosure.

The surrounding wall of the enclosure has long been ploughed over in 2016 but the keeill remains in excellent condition.  Keeill Vreeshey may not be as much of a ‘hidden place’ as many of these sites are, but it is an interesting place to visit and a good example of a well looked after keeill, the views across Marown are also lovely on a good day.

There are many good walks from here over the Millennium Way or along the Mount Rule back road to Baldwin, it would make a good spot for some tea and cake (of course) as part of a longer walk.


More information on keeills.

Keeills and Cake; Ballacarnane Keeill, Kirk Michael.

Keeills and Cake; Ballacarnane Keeill, Kirk Michael.

Keeill number twelve.

With kind permission of Mr John Cannell, Ballacarnane.


On yet another wet Manx morning, we made our way out to Ballacarnane Farm, a site sitting high above the Peel to Kirk Michael Road with a magnificent view down the coast to Peel.  We were there to visit the remains of the Ballacarnane keeill but we were in for a very pleasant surprise, being fortunate enough to have a guided tour from Mr John Cannell, the landowner himself.

Mr Cannell’s family have farmed Ballacarnane for over 500 years (one of only three families in the Island who have farmed the same land for that length of time).  He was a wealth of knowledge and an anthology of stories, spoken in a guttural Manx dialect that is so rare these days, his use of dialect words in conversation was worth the visit alone!  We were a willing audience and could happily have stayed all day.

Mr Cannell told us of a relative, also a Mr John Cannell, who had been the focus of a press gang attempt in Peel in the early part of the 19th century.  Mr Cannell was stronger than the men from the press gang and threw one of them in the harbour, he ran back to Ballacarnane and spent a month living in the scrub in a field with views across to Peel, waiting for the boat of the press gang anchored in the harbour to leave.  The injured party from the press gang found of his whereabouts and came to Ballacarnane to give Mr Cannell his comeuppance, however, it didn’t pan out the way he had wanted to and it is said that this poor gentleman came off worse and is buried under the foundations of the ‘new’ farmhouse!  The murder weapon is still in the possession of the Cannell family, carved with the initials and the date.  You can imagine, it was easy to forget why we had come to visit in the first place.

The farm itself is full of history; there are carvings of ‘Nickeys’ (Manx slang for a fishing boat) in the door of one of the outbuildings, etched by the fishermen generations ago who came to work on the farm in exchange for their board and lodging when the fishing wasn’t in season.  Mr Cannell was kind enough to take us to see the second ‘chapel’ on his private land, Kerrowglass Wesleyan Methodist Church which was built by John Cannell (an ancestor of the current Mr John Cannell), in 1833 on Ballacarnane land.  Although it appears very isolated in 2016, it originally served quite a large community with many more families living on the uplands: in 1851 it had an average attendance of 60.  When the chapel closed in 1963, the family locked the doors, leaving it as it was at the last service.  We really did enjoy visiting this little chapel as much as we did visiting the keeill itself.


So, let’s get back on track, there are too many wonderful diversions at Ballacarnane.

The Keeill, what do we know about it?

The keeill at Ballacarnane is one of just six that are known to have existed in the parish of Kirk Michael, only two of these have visible remains in 2016, the other is Cabbal Pherick at Spooyt Vane.  The remains sit very close to the current farm house on an outcrop of rocks 200ft. above sea level, known as Cronk ny Killey (Hill of the Keeill).



The keeill is one of many that have no known dedication and it is surrounded by a burial ground.  In 2016, little stonework is visible except for one large stone at the entrance to the ruin which had at one stage been removed and put in a hedge but was replaced by the current owner’s father in as close a position as he could get to where it was originally.


Mr Cannell told us that many years ago, the owner of Ballacarnane, a distant relative, decided to destroy the burial ground surrounding the keeill by pulling up the large stones and his seven sons assisted him in this, his one daughter and her mother were very against the idea.  Within a year, all seven sons and the father had died.

The farm was left to the remaining child, the daughter, who married a Cannell from the adjoining farm and continued the family line at Ballacarnane.  There are many stories of similar happenings in connection with these ancient holy sites; exactly the same story was said of Keeill Coonlagh at Ballachonley Farm, in the parish of Jurby, it is told that the seven sons died after completely destroying the keeill and the daughter was left the farm (Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, Kermode), it’s always the women with the common sense!

Alan Radcliffe from Ballayockey Farm, Regaby, told me recently that after the Ardonan Keeill was destroyed in the 1950’s, the gentleman who had taken the structure apart was badly injured by his own tractor.  Even in the mid twentieth century it was blamed on his part in the destruction of the keeill.

It seems that superstitions such as these were a real problem for the survey team.  In the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey it is written:

It is unfortunate that the superstition which prevents the orderly examination of some of these Keeills for the purpose of placing on record, for the information of those who come after us, such particulars as may still be gleaned of their character, structure and appearance, and of bringing to light any monuments buried in their ruins, has in no case availed to prevent their total ruin and subsequent destruction. These monuments and remains are all the evidence which has come down to us of the history of the people by whom they were erected, and of the conditions under which they lived, and even if the refusal to allow of their proper exploration were likely to preserve them, which it certainly is not, to keep them buried beneath the surface, and forbid their examination for the purpose of record, is as useless as to cart them away. We can only hope that in course of time, as the results of our work become better known, we may meet with more general support in this respect, and that a more active interest will be taken in the proper preservation of the little that does remain.

The Cannell family are determined that the keeill should not be disturbed (and can you blame them?).  I was surprised to find that it had been archaeologically surveyed for the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey around 1911.  Many thanks to Ean Cannell who kindly shared with me a photo showing the survey team alongside Mr John Quirk Cannell who farmed there at the time:

ballacarnane ean cannell

What did they find?

P.M.C. Kermode and his team found the foundations in a ‘ruinous state’, most likely not helped by the attempts to destroy the site made by the ‘doomed’ sons and father a couple of centuries earlier!  Only the south east original corner remained although the dimensions were ascertained through following the lines of the walls which were still traceable, the inside measurements were around 12-12ft. 9in. by 9-10ft.  The walls were between 30in. and 48in. high and built of undressed shore boulders without mortar, the lower course internally were faced with slabs set on edge, some of which remained in situ.  The doorway was in the west wall and there was a step down to the paved floor, of which only two or three stones remained, a sill stone of a window in the east wall was found at 3ft. 6ins. from the floor height.  Hundreds of white shore pebbles were also found.

Mr John Quirk Cannell had no recollection of the enclosure which was gone before his time.

Plan of keeill at Ballacarnane-Beg with figure of stone pillar at the door and probable position of corresponding pillar at the other side (taken from the Third Report of the Manx Archeological Survey).

Ballacarnane was visited by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society in 1956 and more recently as part of an excursion for the Praying the Keeills event.  We should be glad that Mr John Quirk Cannell was able to put his superstitions behind him to allow Kermode and his team to excavate for the benefit of recording the keeill for the nation.

Nicola and I really enjoyed our visit to Ballacarnane, Mr Cannell’s stories told us of an area of land rich in history and his connection to it was felt by both of us.  Culture Vannin filmed Mr Cannell talking to myself in the summer of 2018 at Ballacarnane, telling his stories in the way that only he can, it was a wonderful day and one I won’t forget!  Characters like Mr John Cannell are few and far between and it was pleasing to be part of preserving something well worth preserving, thank you Culture Vannin (




Whatever happened to the poor seven sons at Ballacarnane; epidemic? bad luck? or the consequence of destroying a sacred site?! We will never know..

but just in case, if you have a keeill on your land – take good care of it!




Find out more about our visits to Manx keeills in 2016.

Please be aware that these sites are, unless noted as being otherwise, on private land and can only be accessed with permission from the landowner.


Keeills and Cake; Keeill Bow, Lezayre.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Bow, Lezayre.

Keeill number eleven.

With kind permission from Mr Julian Edwards, Ballakillingan.

Skyhill is the modern spelling of Scacafel which is Norse for wooded hill.  This hill near Ramsey was the scene of one of the most famous battles in Manx history where Godred Croven fought the Manx men and took a victory in 1079 that made him Ruler of Man and the Western Isles.  It is hard to be exactly sure of when the keeills date from but it is thought that they were built between 600AD and 1200 AD,  I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a hermit living in the keeill at the time of the battle.

If only the stones could tell stories.

Skyhill and the surrounding areas have played an important part in the history of the Island, in George Quayle’s wonderful book, ‘Legends of a Lifetime’, he talks of the people who lived in the hills around there as if they were a different, much hardier breed, he thought they were:

‘For the most part, a deeply religious people.  To quote the Ettrick shepherd, “a people who saw God in the clouds.”… they were a people of fine physique, their environment saw to this address it required fully developed lungs and stout hearts to wrest a living from these steep and rugged slopes.’

He wasn’t the only one, the Manx poet, T. E. Brown describes them in a similar way in his poem ‘Kitty of the Sherragh Vane’:

 “…for the air is thin
And fine up there, and they sucks it in
Very strong,
Very long,
And mixes it with the mould
Of all their body and all their sowl.”

Kitty of the Sherragh Vane, T. E. Brown.

For a hermit over 1000 years ago, the lifestyle was probably a lonely and uncomfortable one, the Keeill Bow site is very exposed with little shelter as you can see from the windswept trees.  If the intention was to isolate yourself so that your life could be concentrated on a simple existence and feeling closer to God then Skyhill was a pretty good choice of location.  A ‘thin’ place, a ‘thin’ living.

The keeill and surrounding burial ground sits in a field known as ‘Magher ny Hoarn’ meaning ‘field of the graves’ and has been newly fenced by the Manx Museum and National Trust as it is in their guardianship, I found a mention of it in a letter from C. Radcliffe, published in the ‘Manks Advertiser’ in 1826, lamenting the state of the Island’s ecclesiastical antiquities.  In the letter, Radcliffe says;

On the top of Sky-Hill are the remains of Keeill Bow.  From the formation of the word, I should suppose Bow to be the name of some saint Manksified, – but whether St. Buan, or some other, it is impossible to say.

I have found no other mention of this name associated with the keeill but we can assume that was its common name at the start of the nineteenth century so I have decided to use it in this post.

The keeill is quite small measuring only 15ft x 7ft and not so much is visible above ground except for the large stones at the entrance way.  We could see the remains of the lintel grave that was mentioned in the archaeological survey.


The Keeill and burial ground were surveyed as part of the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey in around 1915.  A read of the survey really helps with understanding the site as it is visually quite confusing.  They found the keeill sitting inside a pear shaped cemetery measuring 23 by 16 yards to the outside embankment which was 6ft. wide at the base.  An entrance at the south is marked by upright stone and a step between them, a path leads from here to the keeill entrance.  There is a similar entrance at the north end of the enclosure also paved with large slabs, another pave leads diagonally from the east side to the centre of the cemetery.  There was a grave found in the centre but nothing was found inside, the grave is marked on the map below and we were able to see it in 2016 (see earlier photo).


At the time of the Kermode survey, the lines of the walls of the keeill were visible although with only two or three courses remaining, it measured 15 by 7ft. and the door was in the south wall.  The original jamb stones in the doorway remained and the base of the altar had survived as two heavy slabs lying on the ground at the east end.  The usual bank of stone and earth against the wall was still visible in places.

skyhilllllllA enjoyable walk up Skyhill in the sunshine, a couple of homemade scones and the wonderful views made this visit a very pleasant one.



What are keeills?